The music-streaming service I use everyday recently released their biggest update in years.

It should have been a celebratory moment for its fans, given that many of them are product designers themselves, but it instead turned into an angry tweet storm. Some even threatened to go back to using iTunes.

The soundtrack to this post


I remember when Rdio made their last big update. People took to mocking it on twitter, posting screenshots of the new design next to screenshots of competitors, iTunes and Spotify, circling around the Rdio designers like hungry sharks, ignoring the fact that the industry is small, and their comments were public. But within days, all of the anger subsided, and people seem to be mostly in love with the app once again.

I’ve launched products that were hated at first blush, but there’s a lot that goes into launching a product that the public doesn’t understand; things I expect professional designers to have empathy towards: stakeholders, development hiccups, licensing issues (a huge problem in the music and movie industry), timelines, or simply trying new things.

That last one is tricky. Designing for future interactions is difficult. Technology is changing, as well as our language around it. Sometimes we as designers are in a position to change convention, and I believe we should support each other in it. At the very least, I hope that we would not publicly humiliate each other. I spent the last 7 months with Google Play as a client. I am quite aware of how people love to bash on Google; it seems like such an untouchable entity. But there are people working on those products; people with a lot of constraints to work within.

“If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” —Henry Ford

Big product updates are difficult to pull off. We’re talking about a global cross-platform music-streaming service here. There’s lots of red tape just to launch such a thing, and being the leader in the market is one of the biggest races in tech going on right now. Sure, Rdio didn’t do a good job at communicating their rollout plan. And they changed a lot of things around, renamed entire sections of the app, and didn’t even release the best part of the update (the Home stream) to most people, causing immediate tweet-rage among many users. But this is how we react?

I know I am guilty of this too, and I leave this here also as a reminder to myself.

You are not in control. Just because you pay for a service doesn’t give you the right to design it. Consider that Henry Ford quote, which designers often love to use, it is perhaps the first rebuttal against design by committee. If you really care about a product, then publicly shaming it is counter-intuitive. The success of a product like Rdio is in the number of its subscribers. If someone is wondering if they should check out a service that you are suddenly trashing on Twitter, then I bet they’d be less inclined to check it out. Your comments, positive or negative, are the product’s PR. And if you are a product owner, you know that there are preferred ways to receive feedback rather than public rage-fueled tweets. You should probably use those channels, too.

Many of the tweets that were directed towards Rdio were later apologized for, or even quietly redacted. Once users discovered where something was or their amazing Twitter account pointed out what it was now called, they apologized for rage tweeting. It’s nice to apologize, but perhaps slow down for a bit to really see what the changes are all about. Take some time to see if the changes are really working or not, just because you can’t immediately see the benefit doesn’t mean it’s not there. Then, if you are really unsatisfied, use the proper channels to communicate thoroughly so they have useful information to work from.

Rdio has since brought back some of the things they had taken away. Some see this as justification for speaking their mind. I don’t disagree. I’m not against protest, I just think there’s a certain way to go about it. I am not anti-criticism of the applications we use, but I am suggesting we be mindful of how this discussion takes place.

People make these things we use every day. Show them the same love and empathy you would want on launch day.

spiderman-hug

Update:

I recently saw Jason Scott speak at Brooklyn Beta, and his talk encouraged me to dig up my lost blog articles from an old Wordpress database. While doing so, I discovered something I wrote similar to this topic, and I have ported it over to this site. It’s called, The Perception of Criticism Online.